November 17, 2018

Tribute to my Dutch friends

By Tanja Fröhlich-Israng.

I had the pleasure to spend three years in the Netherlands together with my family. Our child attended a Dutch kindergarten as well as a Dutch school. It was a great way of meeting a lot of people outside the expat community. Also, our neighbourhood was mainly Dutch.

I would like to share my observations with you – the observations of a German woman who fell in love with the Dutch culture – apart from the fact of many tall attractive Dutch men wearing posh (brown) shoes.

I treasure the Dutch culture especially the….

…characteristics of

  • being straight forward,
  • natural self-esteem,
  • being practical, being helpful,
  • being open – e.g. having a friendly chat just here and there,
  • being ungrudging – a great virtue adding its part to a peaceful society,
  • being patient – e.g. honking in traffic is rare,
  • living and let live – judgemental thinking is rare,
  • the existence of hierarchies which are simply not so important.

…culture of discussion

The unagitated and un-capricious mentality in all aspects of life.

The possibility to talk about more sensitive topics without returning sweeping judgements.


All of the above also reflects in politics which is built on cross-party consensus. It is refreshing to watch pragmatism in politics rather than all-time election campaign folklore. Politicians are accessible. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, for example since 2008 teaches two hours once a week at a school in a problem area of Den Haag.

…family culture

Children are an essential part of life. In the Netherlands this is not just paying lip service but inherent in most all-day-living aspects. The atmosphere breathes child friendliness and consideration. Children are generally well received almost wherever you go. There are some very advanced leisure or thematic parks for children and their parents (e.g. “Avifauna” or “Archeon”), inviting, well thought and organised, clean. Especially during holiday times there are a lot of offers for children such as theatre plays (great ones!!), outdoor activities, festivals, workshops, mostly already starting at the age of two. Visit wonderful museums or parts of it that specifically address children (e.g. the “Wonderkamers” in the Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag).

Also, one of the most fantastic Christmas markets in Europe is the Country & Christmas fair at the extraordinary water castle Kasteel de Haar.

…culture of taking care and engaging

Being a volunteer – first and foremost “digging in your own garden” of your relatives, friends, people you know or other in a specific environment. It is about e.g. getting organized in a neighbourhood and/or helping elderly people, disabled people, disadvantaged children. There is a long grown implicitness in it, simply part of life.

Egalitarian way / respect – and here I am deliberately choosing examples of simplicity, e.g. the natural way in having a talk with the public gardener or the street cleaner. Thus an appreciation of all jobs and professions simply as necessary parts of the puzzle called society. By the way – I love the clean toilets even at most (Dutch) frequented beach restaurants. To me this is also a sign of respect towards the owners and the cleaners.

The love and individual care for children. The caretaking system belongs to the most advanced – e.g. a high density of choices of kindergarten and basic schools within reach of your neighbourhood. This includes the side-effect of no need for cars and parking as you either come by foot or by bike to bring or fetch your child.

Only a few annual days of closure in kindergarten which are open at least till 6 pm. School starts at the age of four years and parents are an integral part of the school system – rather a community than a necessity. Voluntary work is mostly not perceived as a necessary burden but a fun part by parents (there are often more volunteers than tasks). I remember well I almost did not get in the louse seeking parental group… It is rather a social happening to see each other in the morning or the afternoon dropping or fetching the kids.

…efficient health care

Although as a foreigner you might never get used to it… The health care system is based, in general, on three pillars: (1) general practitioners, (2) wait and see plus (3) paracetamol. If there is medical necessity than a very well advanced hospital system kicks in. Fully digitalized but assisted inscription systems, appointments are on schedule, mostly friendly and hygienic looking waiting and caretaking areas, no overcrowded spots, specific children activities and provisions, advanced doctors, the absence of hectic but simultaneously efficiency. A concierge takes also care of the company in case of an emergency.

…organizational culture

If you ever thought Germans are organized – meet the Dutch.

Pragmatism meets efficiency e.g. if there is a road construction site the road users will be informed well in advance also about the duration. In most cases the construction is completed before the final date.

…way of keeping the country tidy and in order

Believe it or not – there are specific dustbins for cyclists. You don’t have to stop – just throw. Roads, houses, bridges are constantly being taken care of if necessary 24/7. This is reflected also by clean and thus inviting environments at most places in the country.

…arts & culture

For a low fixed amount everybody can get an annual museum card providing free access to most of the museums in all of the Netherlands (so no excuses!).

The museums are well thought, well maintained, modern and well curated.

They are sometimes stunningly embedded in nature (such as the Kröller-Müller museum or the Museum Voorlinden).

You will find your Dutch neighbours overproportionally directly or indirectly engaged in art: voluntary help at a museum, being a painter, writer, dancer, musician, sculptor, provider of art spaces. General high regard of art and culture.

…sports culture

The main population of the Netherlands are bicycles. Already the implicitness of being sportive by cycling makes a sportive nation. Plus keeping balance although transporting three kids and a Christmas tree at once. If there is sun you are outside. If not you are outside anyway.

There is a general healthy way of living as the Dutch are “outsiders” obviously born with the resistance to wet or cold air. So they are cool without wanting to be by start wearing flip-flops and shorts as soon as the temperature exceeds around 10 ° C. There is always a lot of water throughout the Netherlands plus nice beaches so swimming is almost natural to everybody. Kite surfing, sailing and all possible other water sports are also regular. Hockey – what a nice sport – is quite popular and classes already run from the age of three. The million-euro dressage horse Totilas originates from the Netherlands as some of the best breeds nowadays. There are many other sports of course. Pick one it will be there.


…architecture and interior design

Quite experimental architecture. One gets a good insight by visiting Rotterdam. The Dutch are not shy mixing different styles.

Dutch architecture is certainly one thing not – boring. There might also wait a surprise entering a rather ugly perceived building which turns out extraordinary from the inside. Being invited into a house or flat of a Dutch citizens always is a great pleasure. There seems to be a natural way of decorating well also if the budget is limited.

…way of being smart, experimental and highly innovative, just examples

Magic control over water: protection against floods, land reclamation, navigability, nature protection, architecture & water, everyday life surrounded by water etc. – being world renowned experts.

The Netherlands is leading in Connectivity in Europe, in particular when it comes to fixed broadband. The practical aspects of the digital world are well advanced (e.g. one chip card for the whole public transport system, free Wifi in all trains).

In Dutch supermarkets you mostly get home grown products such as vegetables and fruits. Additionally the Dutch are market leader in Europe in exporting agricultural products and food. The worldwide list is headed by the USA but the Netherlands are already second. This is also due to the very well advanced high-technology which is an export hit as well.

Having open space offices, flexible working hours and a preference for teleworking in every ministry is not fancied by everybody but a consequent experiment that followed the necessity for economizing structures.

…obsessional foods

Ok. Not every specific Dutch food is everybody’s cup of tea but you will always find alternatives.

Truly there exists an obsession with peanuts (in their true sense). I will not forget a sport session where our instructor asked us to imagine being a peanut.

Hagelslag for breakfast.

Haring, hold it over your head and just put in your mouth.

Having lunch usually means bread or soup or salade.

Young, middle-aged, old aged cheese.

Bitterballen and anything else deep-fried.

Poffertjes – the only non-efficient food: a lot of effort for the smallest but so yummy pancakes.

…particular traditions

The Sinterklaas, the St Nicholas, is actually the real Father Christmas in the Netherlands 🙂 Already in November he arrives by ship from Spain, accompanied by the Zwarte Pieten. It is a happening and celebrated all over the country. The 5th of December is the gift receiving day for all children.

On Vlaggetjesdag the Dutch celebrate the new haring brought into the harbour. It is a big feast, do not miss.

On 1st January the Nieuwjaarsduik takes place. If you are eager to have a real endorphin kick than try it out. Run with thousands of other enthusiasts into the sea and party.

Creative small treats at specific occasions (e.g. birthdays, entering/leaving) already at kindergarten from one child for all children in class/caretakers. Be as creative as you wish.

The song “Hoof, schouders, knie en teen” every Dutch knows and sings in all ages.

Buurman & Buurman (although originally Czech) has been translated into Dutch and is a big success. Anyhow there is not much spoken. It is one of those down-to-earth, non-hectic or flashy but funny short movies (available on youtube) for children and adults of all ages. Buurman means neighbour and the two of them are puppets trying to figure out a lot of things together.


If you want to learn more:

– meet the Dutch.

The author: As part of a diplomats family Tanja Fröhlich-Israng lived for three years from 2014 to 2017 in Den Haag. She works for the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

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